POV – Frodo
In which the Free Folk face their dragons.
Bilbo is tired of trying to reason with you people…
There is a lot of political maneuvering going on in this chapter as certain people come to understand that being on Bilbo’s bad side may not be in their best interests.
This chapter and the one following try to answer a challenging political science question: How does a highly decentralized society hold it together in the face of external threats? The Shire is, if you will, opening up to international trade, but also international intrigue, with new economies and industries springing up while outsiders penetrate further into the formerly isolated society. The Shire can’t claim to be a state in any modern sense – they have no true head of state, they are not recognized by other entities in a formal capacity (compare, for example, to Rohan), they have no system of governance – and are more a geographically collected and relatively cooperative set of tribes. They are in the process of transforming into a more formally organized principality (minus the governing kingdom). They have a kind of plebiscitary democracy, but one that runs on convention, public hazing, and social deference. Older women can claim some political standing (note that most of the married women return to stand with their paternal clans during the moot, though some women remain with spouses), and the separation of high and low is small. Proximity is more powerful a motivator than logic.
There’s also a thread running through here about isolationism vs. cosmopolitanism, an issue in current politics. There are constructive and destructive faces to each, but the isolationists are far more willing to burn things down than take risks. JRRT was more isolationist than not, I think. He loved the Númenóreans being great sea farers, but they never seemed changed by the societies they encountered, except to be corrupted or reduced by contact with lesser folk.
Disease and public health has a moment, as well, so very important as we watch the current US mis-administration gut, despoil and mock our public health system, seeing only constraints upon criminal behavior rather than any value it provides to the citizenry. The fever rash is measles, a disease on the upswing in the US as asshole parents, paranoid about pollution of their vital essences, refuse to vaccinate their children. This is what the world looks like in the absence of modern medicine.